Assumptions grate on me -- as much as I'm guilty of them myself.
In addition to designing surveys for my job, I take a lot of online surveys, as a way to make (a very small amount of) money on the side. Usually you're required to answer every question on the page, and more than once I've had to either quit taking a survey in the middle or lie because there was no way to honestly answer a poorly written question. For example:
- Which of the following brands of alcohol have you consumed in the past 3 months? (Um... I don't drink.)
- Which of these companies provides your landline service at home? (We don't have a landline.)
- What is your monthly mortgage payment? (We live in an apartment)
This is why "N/A" and "Other" options were invented, people.
Yesterday at work I was transcribing the comments on feedback forms from a recent event. Although the event organizers had tried to cut down on paper use by confining all information to a single handout, several people still complained that the information should have been distributed electronically rather than "wasting" paper.
"We all have smartphones," one respondent explained.
Really? Really? Are you sure that every single one of the other event attendees owns a smartphone?
Let me answer that for you: They don't. Because I was there. And I don't own a smartphone.
I am forever beating down these kind of assumptions in work meetings. As the youngest person in my office, I have to straddle the gap between my coworkers and those "young'ns" -- the students who attend our college.
"Have the students do it on their phones in class. All those kids have smartphones."
"We should do this through Facebook. Everyone's on Facebook."
"If you want all students to know about it, you have to 'tweet' it. They're all on Twitter all the time."
Yes, of course there are plenty of students who sit in class looking at Facebook and Twitter on their smartphones. But that doesn't make it true for everyone. Rarely is there a benefit to making decisions based on these kind of sweeping assumptions.
In light of this, I thought I would list the many truths I try to keep in mind about just how much diversity there is, even within America. I still forget many of these, and I'm sure there are other truths I've missed that you will add in comments!
- Not everyone is straight.
- Not everyone believes in God.
- Not everyone who believes in God is Christian.
- Not everyone celebrates holidays.
- Not everyone speaks English.
- Not everyone can sum up their race or ethnicity with a single checkbox.
- Not everyone has siblings who are the same race.
- Not everyone wants to be married.
- Not everyone wants to have children.
- Not everyone had a happy childhood.
- Not everyone has sex before marriage.
- Not everyone grew up with their biological parents.
- Not everyone grew up with two parents.
- Not everyone grew up with two opposite-sex parents.
- Not everyone can hear.
- Not everyone can see.
- Not everyone has two legs and two arms.
- Not everyone can climb stairs.
- Not everyone was born in the right-gendered body.
- Not everyone has a job or the ability to have one.
- Not everyone has access to adequate education.
- Not everyone can read.
- Not everyone knows how to use a computer.
- Not everyone owns a computer.
- Not everyone owns a TV.
- Not everyone eats meat.
- Not everyone drinks alcohol.
- Not everyone got drunk in college.
- Not everyone went to college or wants to go to college.
This is not about being "politically correct" or whether or not you're going to offend someone. This is just a reminder to take stock of your own assumptions. When I look over this list, I "know" all of these things... but I still catch myself making decisions on the assumption that everyone has the same abilities, preferences, and experiences that I do.
Even after years of talking about and working for gay rights, I still have to keep myself from reinforcing hetero-normativity by teasing some little boy about whether he's got a "girlfriend."
Even after having debilitating mono for 8 months, I still have to fight the judgmental voice in my head when someone takes the elevator up one floor.
I want to know: What assumptions do others make that don't apply to you? What mistaken assumptions do you find yourself making most often? There's no way to stop making assumptions overnight, but I think the more we remind each other of our differences, the easier it becomes to think in ways that encompass diversity.